Noita (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£7.99 soundtrack, £21.13 game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ahhh, Noita… Pixel by pixel simulation of object interaction. Want ice vapour to kill you? Don’t worry, particle by particle, you can do that! Want to put out that particle fire? Just hop in some particle liquid that isn’t particle oil, or sprinkle it on yourself! Want to shoot several particle streams of death, which then become more particle streams of death, and so on until your computer is screaming at you to stop? Yes, you can do these things, all of these things, so long as it’s through shooting things, bombing things, kicking things, throwing things, or spraying things!

Pixels! And many of them are currently very deadly!

You can also die in some extremely messy ways. And you will. Often. So yes, welcome to Noita, a procedurally generated roguelike in which you are descending into the depths of a mountain’s cavern/dungeon network, for… Reasons. I’m sure they made sense at the time, whatever those reasons were. It’s got some lovely pixel art, which, y’know, fits because of all those pixels that can be set on fire, slosh around, obstruct you and so on… And the music and sounds are good too.

It’s difficult, and at times twitchy, so if those are turnoffs, turn ye back now, and, as mentioned, it can get resource hoggy, so make sure your computer can handle it before trying it out!

Otherwise… Hot damn, the feeling of doing incredibly silly shit with your wands and potions, whether it works or not… No, really, it’s amusing to have thirty five arrows from a single cast, only for said arrows to bounce back at you because what did you expect when you fired 35 arrows in so many directions?

For this to be my situation on entering the level is a sign that maybe I should have run away. I did not. I died. I had a blast (and I got blasted.)

Well, you expected something amusing to happen. And you got it, even if you have to restart the game. But that’s okay, there’s probably even sillier things you can get up to! (There most definitely are.)

Any criticisms? Well… Apart from the game turning very resource hoggy when there’s a lot of stuff going on (and believe me, you can easily ensure a lot of stuff is going on, and so can some of the enemies), it’s in this weird space where the basic learning curve is actually quite easy… But the mastery curve is several sharp inclines, which, even with the potential for very amusing deaths, also creates some frustrating ones. Argh, why did I have to die just by getting shot? Boring! Also, some enemies, like the snipers, are… Oh god, they’re utter bastards.

Helpfully, the game now lists things you’ve found, and counts the secrets the game has. Yes, I mentioned secrets, and have found none personally. I know how to get them, I just haven’t tried.

But, overall, I love Noita. I love the destructive creativity. I love the war stories it can create. And, if you don’t mind a tough action roguelike, where you’re going to die in the first few areas a lot before you get further, you’ll like this one.

The Mad Welshman appreciates that wizards have no sense of responsibility. So consider sending wizards into this hellhole a chance for one of them to learn. Maybe.

Look, it’s enjoyable to send the bastards to their doom, alright?

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Undermine (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access

In a land with a great wizard, and quite a few warriors, clerics, etcetera, who’s going to save the day? Who’s going to stop the evil sorceress or what have you from bringing back an ancient evil? Who’s going to clean up the dungeons and stop the earthquakes?

One of a cavalcade of largely identical and disposable peasants. That’s who. And they pay the company store for their equipment. Yay capitalism! (Not yay at all.)

They will not be getting their pension, due to “Cost saving measures.” IE – Letting them die. They never got hazard pay.

And yes, that is basically the setup for Undermine: You are a peasant, who is very handy with a pick and has a gold hauling canary, and if you die, well, another, sometimes eerily similar peasant drops into the dungeon to have a go, trampling figuratively on the backs of those who died before them.

Which, for a shooty slashy roguelike sort of game with rooms filled with traps, enemies, gold, and the cute slimes that try to steal that gold when you mine it (oh, and bosses and shops, obviously), is actually a blackly hilarious setup. Instead of a dodge roll, you have a special power. An amazing power.

Yeaaaaahhh, this isn’t in my comp package. Because that doesn’t exist.

Peasants are the only buggers in this world who can jump. Take that how you will. In any case, swinging your pick, throwing your pick, dropping bombs, and occasionally chugging potions are your absolute basics here, along with “If you die, you lose some of your gold, and can either spend what’s left on improving yourself, or going right back in in the hopes that you make enough gold to get bigger improvements.”

It’s a tried and true method, and, honestly, it works really well here. The visuals are good spritework, the menus are clear, the enemies are interesting… And the bosses… Ahhh, these are some good quality bosses. Just qualifying enough in the category of “A Shower of Bastards” to make you hate them, but you get the idea of how to beat them pretty quickly. It’s just a matter of doing it. The difficulty curve is pretty fair… This is one of those games where it’s tightly designed, it’s fun, and I’d have to look really hard to find something I’m actually critical.

There, a screenshot where they didn’t die, from the training video! Except they died two or three minutes after.

And I have. And I’ve failed. So… Undermine: If you like procgen twin-sticky collected arenas-as-dungeons games, then yes, this is a good pick for you. I wouldn’t necessarily say it would be a good game for dipping your toes in the water to see if you like it, but I also wouldn’t say it’s a bad place to start.

And that’s Undermine. Eat the Wizards.

AWAB, is all The Mad Welshman has to say.

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Eastern Exorcist (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.49 (Demo is available)
Where to Get It: Steam

Being an exorcist in a world where demons not only exist, but have physical form, is a tough, dangerous proposition. And one’s heart needs to be like steel, as the protagonist quickly discovers. And so begins a journey of redemption, and perhaps revenge. Although I will say… Why the hell would you trust a Fox Spirit, a spirit well known for its lies and illusions? Ugh… Well, it makes for an interesting story.

Yes… How dare she turn into a vengeful ghost because we murdered her!

Eastern Exorcist looks pretty good. It even has an alright story. But… It has flaws. And gamepad comes heavily recommended. The various attack, parry, special, etcetera keys build up very quickly, and follow the JKL… Wait, no… H, JKL, UIO… And I’m sure Y will end up there pretty quickly. 8 buttons, not counting basic movement and jumping. That’s a fair amount, and, placed so close together… Either rebinding the keys for your comfort, or playing on gamepad is heavily recommended. And its gameplay…

This big guy moves more than this, but yes, he has a hefty recovery time for an equally heft boy.

It looks, on the surface, like an ARPG metroidvania. And maybe it improves from its somewhat basic formula later on… But the early game feels… Flat. I have a dash. I have a double jump. And yet… I don’t seem to use them much in the early game. The tutorialisation is, for the most part, pretty good, despite some segments being forced, but some concepts remain a little mysterious to me. And I meant to dash, and immediately hit J if I know it’s going to be a perfect, or as the symbol appears (usually when I’m too far away) or… It’s only one example, and the other mechanics, such as perfect parries or reflection, are explained well, but it’s a small thing that annoys me.

Moments later, they slashed me up but good. Not lethally, but still… Argh.

And so… I’m rather torn on this one. I’m not all that fond of what I call the “Gamepad heavily recommended ” games, and its early game feels flat in both the platform sense and the combat formula sense (Although that may just be me, as the enemy variety is solid pretty early on), but… It is Early Access, there’s plenty of time for it to improve, and the art style is definitely good, with well telegraphed attacks and clear signs of perfect dodge timing.

It’s one of these games where some problems are obvious to me, but others… Others are annoying me with not being able to properly pin my feelings down. It’s still one to at least watch, as I certainly didn’t find fault with the story, and the English localisation seems solid.

I just wish I could pin down more things about why I’m torn on this one right now.

The Mad Welshman, as an important reference, has not seen Chinese Opera. Just want that out there.

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One Step From Eden (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99 (£7.19 for Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, adding roguelike elements to things. We’ve seen it a lot, in recent years. We’ve even seen games that attempt to mix the Battle Network style of play, in which a field of tiles is split in two, and you dodge round them, using spells, cards, chips, whatever you wish to call them, to make attacks… Look… Move round field. Dodge attacks. Hit people with things, in the way the cards you got say. Rinse. Repeat.

My co-op partner and I… Getting our asses kicked.

So, most of this review is gameplay, because the story? Well, it’s post apocalyptic, there are beasties, there’s an end goal (Eden), and there are bosses (Who are also playable characters.) The aesthetic is, for the most part, fine, with a UX that only takes a little bit of getting used to (Although… Points docked for no colourblind mode, and some colourblindness problems, like the four tile marker, and broken tiles not being quite clear enough), with some nice music and pixel-art.

But the majority is gameplay, and the gameplay definitely has some interesting elements. Like its inspiration, it is, essentially, a deckbuilder, but stays real-time by shuffling your deck, rather than having you pick cards from it, randomly putting them into one of two slots, while you have a “weapon” for your character you can fall back on (or, in the case of Saffron, the starting character, hold the button down while you’re doing everything else.) Not all the weapons are weapons, and the cards you can pick for your deck, the artefacts, remain the same for all characters.

This… Seems like a bad idea. But it may not be… Well, situationally…

And there is the nice touch that you can focus on certain builds, letting the RNG prioritise certain card types over others. Maybe you like Anima, the elemental cannon type. Maybe you prefer Trinity, where the best things come in threes, or, more specifically… Third time lucky. Or maybe you want something like Flow, where the flow is built up and spent, powerful so long as you keep the flow flowing. I like this, it allows you to build the sort of deck you want, even if it may be luck to get it going. Shops are expensive, it’s true, and the unlocks between runs are, essentially, random, but they happen, and the fights are reasonable, so all is well in singleplayer.

Co-Op, on the other hand, is… Less well implemented. There is shared health, but this comes at the cost of both players having to play the same character, where… Not all of the palette changes are properly distinguishable from each other. It is also only local for both Co-Op and PVP (the latter of which I didn’t try, it must be mentioned.) There have been attempts to balance the co-op elements, with quicker mana regeneration, but, on the whole, my friend and I were not impressed. If you are trying this through Remote Play, be aware that yes, you’re probably going to have latency. Damn you, British Internets!

I would say the little sod’s got what’s coming to him, but he’s one of those enemies you have to take down with individual attacks. He only takes one HP per, y’see.

Overall, though, I like One Step From Eden. It has flaws. It has boss fights I don’t like (Violette’s can be quite painful if you don’t realise those notes are for stepping on, to prep you for her largely unavoidable attack.) And, as mentioned, co-op’s not so hot. But it has more going for it than against it, and so, I would recommend this.

The Mad Welshman appreciates not having to play an alphabet soup deck. And no, this won’t make sense to many. But he is still glad.

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Azur Lane: Crosswave (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £32.99 for the base game, £9.17 total for the soundtrack and “time-savers”
Where To Get It: Steam

Azur Lane is one hell of a phenomenon. It was, originally a mobile shmup gacha type deal that persists to this day. Gacha, by the way, means random drops, like the toy ball machines you sometimes see in cinemas and arcades, which are called Gacha Machines.

I decided to kill you all with cute early on.

But over the years, it’s gotten an anime, several manga, a fan following that make doujin and headcanon, expanding on the world… And the developers, basing their shipgirls, or kansen (women who’ve been given magical girl powers from rebuilt battleships to fight an alien threat called the Sirens… Or to use that alien threat’s technology to be evil) on the battles and cruisers, destroyers, battleships and carriers of World War 2, even down to a plotline in the main game that closely matches that of World War 2.

It’s interesting stuff, and, prior to the release of this game, a friend encouraged me to try out the original. So here I am, reviewing a 3D, third person character shmup with players switching between shipgirls of various abilities to achieve three goals for S rank: All player ships survive. Bosses killed. And to do that in 2 minutes or under.

It can get… A lot, quickly in battles. Just circle strafing isn’t gonna save you here, buddy.

And it’s honestly pretty nice! Very talky, and with a game loop that’s a somewhat acquired taste, but the writing is good, and each character shows their development, from Shimakaze, the protagonist of story mode, a cute, but naïve shipgirl just coming into her own, to Amagi, the sadistic, dominant, and extremely thirsty cruiser who was the villain of the early arc of Azur Lane, along with her adoptive “sister”, Kaga, who is a much more quiet character who merely appreciates the art of battle… And is a grumpy dork. There’s even a particularly humorous section in Chapter 4 of the game, where one of the bigger bads, the Siren “Purifier”, attempts to fight the main character, with a big, dramatic build up… And then all of that, the dramatic music, the stormy clouds, the evil laughter and dramatic monologue… All fall down as she’s told Shimakaze is in the middle of a friendly match with another character.

“…What.” I laughed, just as I laughed at several moments up until then.

Yes, those are the “Deal with it” sunglasses. Yes, she does wear them often. Deal with it.

Mechanically, while the main loop of “Sit through a ton of events, have some two to five minute battles, maybe grind some earlier battles to make sure you S rank, collect loot boxes, then do it some more” may turn folks off, the battles themselves do have their interesting parts. As with the original mobile game, there are up to three frontliners, and three support ships, which provide abilities, covering fire, that sort of thing. But you can switch between the characters, and when you do… The character you were using heals, a subtle encouragement to switch characters to use their special abilities (such as Shimakaze’s speed boost), their lock on attacks, and their own weaponry, with strengths and weaknesses. My one crit so far is that while moving forward to the next objective is clearly marked with a green arrow, it could sometimes be simpler, mission wise, if the enemies just… Spawned in, rather than wasting time. Maybe a personal preference thing.

Meanwhile, the keyboard is not recommended for this one, as there are directional controls, camera controls, two attacks, two specials, a dodge… That’s tough to keybind well, and I had trouble before I went to controller to carry on playing.

Red is important, green (lighter green, good call) is optional (but recommended.)

Aesthetically, Azur Lane in general has been known for its music, and it’s no different here, with some good tunage, solid sound and voice work, and the visual novel/overworld map elements are well done. The UX is pretty clear, and, while the 3D isn’t top notch, it’s still pretty good, and I do like the water, unrealistic though it may be. I dunno, maybe it’s because it adds a touch of stylisation.

So, overall, I enjoy Azur Lane: Crosswave. It’s definitely one fans of the original should check out, and, if you like these sorts of genres, there’s going to be an element of the game, at least, that will be enjoyable to you. It knows what niche it’s aiming for, and it lands it, and… Well, I appreciate a well written game!

The Mad Welshman curses the day his friend got him to Azur Lane. It’s killed his productivity…

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